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Ghazni Exhibition in Kabul, 2010 - Historical Background


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This document is the draft of a historical overview of Ghazni and its surrounding region, prepared as a frame of a UNESCO sponsored exhibition to take place in Summer 2010 in Kabul, at the National Museum of Afghanistan. It will serve as a basis for explanatory panels and other information to the public on that occasion. It is based on quotes from classic and modern authors.

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Ghazni Exhibition in Kabul, 2010 - Historical Background

  1. 1. GHAZNI EXHIBITION AT THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFGHANISTAN, KABUL by Alessandro Califano, Senior Curator CRDAV, City of Rome (Italy) What follows is the draft of a historical overview of Ghazni and its surrounding region, prepared as a frame of a UNESCO sponsored exhibition to take place in Summer 2010 in Kabul, at the National Museum of Afghanistan. It will serve as a basis for explanatory panels and other information to the public on that occasion. It is based on quotes from classic and modern authors. Darius became King of Persia, King of Kings, in September 522 BCE under the name of Darius I. According to the Histories, written (450-420 BCE) by the Greek historian Herodotus, “[Darius] established twenty provinces, that they call Satrapies … named the governors and determined the tributes he should receive…” [Herodotus, Histories, III, 89] Darius combined the region of Ghazni, at that time inhabited by a people Herodotus calls “Aparits”, together with the Gandhara as well as other regions to form a single unit. It counted as the Seventh Province of the Achaemenid Empire and paid a tribute in silver of 170 talents (the talent had a weight of about 30.3 kg). [Herodotus, Histories, III, 91] Arachosians – as the people from that regions where also called (after the river that was named in Greek Arachōtós, today’s Arghandab, flowing into Helmand river) – are known to have been visiting Persepolis, the capital of the Achaemenid empire, and they are represented there in reliefs on the eastern stairs of the great Audience Hall (Apadana), bringing (silver?) vessels as tribute. When the Achaemenid empire collapsed under the attack of Alexander the Great, the eastern provinces strongly opposed him, fighting on until Alexander conquered the whole region. In Arachosia Alexander built two cities: one (Alexandropolis) at today’s Kandahar site, and another one (Alexandria in Arachosia) at Ghazni. They were to be part of a long chain of strongholds with garrisons, inhabited by Greeks or Macedonians, to safeguard roads and control the territory. “Under Greek rule,” writes Paul Bernard, “Central Asia experienced such unprecedented urban growth that its fame as the land of a thousand cities spread to the West. The cities were necessary instruments … fulfilling many different roles. They served as: administrative … [and] economic centres, … trading posts along international local trading routes and, not least, cultural centres diffusing Greek traditions. Some of the new towns were built entirely from scratch on virgin soil… others were built on the site of the former town itself with Greek ramparts superimposed on those dating from earlier periods such as Alexandria in Arachosia (Ghazni)” [In: History of Civilizations of Central Asia, vol. II – The development of sedentary and nomadic civilizations: 700 B.C. to A.D. 250, UNESCO, Paris 1996 (2nd edition) – The Greek Kingdoms of Central Asia, p. 108]. Sibyrtius – writes Arrian (VI.27.1-2) – was appointed by Alexander satrap of the Arachosians as well as of the confining Gedrosians. After the emperor’s death, however, petty fights broke out all over the region, only temporarily to be settled by Seleucus Nicator, the new Greek ruler in the area. Power was however taken over by Chandragupta Maurya before 300 BCE, who came to an understanding with Seleucus acquiring many eastern regions that had gallantly fought against Alexander the Great, including Arachosia [Appian (95-165), History of Rome – Syrian Wars, 55]. © Alessandro Califano, 2010
  2. 2. Strabo (ca. 64 BCE to 24 AD) had already described how “the Indians [occupied] some of the countries … which formerly belonged to the Persians: Alexander deprived the Ariani of them, and established there settlements of his own. But Seleucus Nicator gave them to Sandrocottus [i.e. Chandragupta] in consequence of a marriage contract and received in return five hundred elephants” (Strabo, Geographica, 15,2,9). Buddhism, fostered by Chandragupta Maurya also in Arachosia, remained a constant feature of the Ghazni region even well after the Indo-Scythian branch of the Sakas – who invaded northern India as far as Mathura, probably over the Bolan pass, coming from Arachosia, as far as today’s area of Kandahar – had come and gone (from the 2nd century BCE to the 4th century), until the Arab armies brought Islam to the region in the 7th century. From that date (61 H, 683 AD) the region of Ghazni was an important strategic stronghold for any further expansion of Muslim conquerors towards the Indian Subcontinent. Al-Biruni (Abū Rayhān Muhammad ibn Ahmad Bīrūnī) writes in his Kitab fi Tahqiq ma li'l-Hind that “no Muslim conqueror passed beyond the frontier of Kabul… until the days of the Turks, when they seized the power in Ghazna under the Samani dynasty, and the supreme power fell to the lot of Sabuktagin. … In the interest of his successors he constructed … those roads on which afterwards his son Yamin- addaula Mahmud marched into India during a period of thirty years and more” [Edward Sachau (ed.), Alberuni’s India, vol. I, pp.25-26 (p. 11 in the 1885/86 Arabic edition)]. In his rare and excellent historical work Habib as-Siyar (927 H., AD 1537), Khondamir writes about Subuktigin and his Ghaznavid dynasty: “[In 367 H.] the chief men of Ghaznín saw the signs of greatness and nobility, and the fires of felicity and prosperity in the forehead of Subuktigin, who widely spread out the carpet of justice, and rooted out injury and oppression, and who, by conferring different favours on them, had made friends of the nobles, the soldiers, and the leading men of the State… in the year 367 H. he took Bust and Kusdar, and, after these events, according to the request of Sultan Nuh Samani, he turned his attention towards Khwasan. Amir Subuktigin died at the city of Balkh, in the month of Sha’ban, 387 H. (A.D. 997), and fourteen of his descendants occupied the throne after him. Historians reckon the sovereignty of the Ghaznivides as beginning with the conquest of Bust, and they calculate that they flourished for 188 years” [In: The History of India as Told by Its Own Historians – The Muhammadan Period, by H.M. Elliot & John Dowson, vol. IV (repr. Kitab Mahal, Allahabad, no date), pp. 158-160]. Though conquered and sacked by the Khorasan’s Ghurids (Shansabani) in 529 H. (A.D. 1151), Ghazni thrived again for another seventy years, until it was conquered and destroyed by Genghis Khan’s armies in 1221. Ibn Battuta, who visited Ghazni on his way to India about 110 years later, described it in these terms: “From Charikar we left for Ghaznah, capital of the famous Mahmud, the fighting Sultan who was a son of Sabuktigin… His tomb is in this town. The vast majority of Ghaznah is destroyed and only a small part of it still exists; it used nevertheless to be a noticeable city. It has a very cold climate; its inhabitants leave it during the winter to stay in Kandahar, a large and rich city, three days away from Ghaznah, that I didn’t however visit. We stayed outside of Ghaznah, in a village at the river flowing below the fortress” [in: C. Defremery – B. R. Sanguinetti, Ibn Battuta – Voyages, Paris 1997, vol. II, p. 319]. Rather lengthily describing Ghazni, its surrounding , and its inhabitants, Babur writes: “Ghazni was the capital of Sabuktegin, of Sultan Mahmud, and of the dynasty sprung from them. This was also the capital of Shahab-ed-din Ghuri, who, in the Tabakat-e-Nasiri, and many of the histories of Hind, is called Muizzeddin. It is situated in the third climate. It is also named Zabul, and it is to this country that the term Zabulistan relates; many include Kandahar in Zabulistan… Ghazni is a country of small extent. Its river may be large enough to drive four or five mills. The city of Ghazni, and four or five other villages, are supplied from this river, while as many more are fertilized by © Alessandro Califano, 2010
  3. 3. subterraneous water-courses. The grapes of Ghazni are superior to those of Kabul, and its melons more abundant. Its apples too are excellent, and are carried into Hindustan. Cultivation is carried on with great difficulty and labour… but the produce of the crops exceeds that of Kabul… The inhabitants of the open country are Hazaras and Afghans. Ghazni is a cheap place compared with Kabul. The inhabitants are Moslems of the sect of Hanifah, and orthodox in their faith… The tomb of Sultan Mahmud is in one of the suburbs of Ghazni, which, for that circumstance, is termed Rauzeh [i.e. “the garden”]. The best grapes in Ghazni are from Rauzeh. The tombs of his descendants, Sultan Mahmud and Sultan Ibrahim, are in Ghazni. There are many holy tombs at that city… Having come on to Ghazni,, along the banks of Ab-istadeh [i.e. a lake south of Ghazni], I was told that in one of the villages of Ghazni there was a mausoleum, in which the tomb moved itself whenever the benediction on the Prophet was pronounced over it. I went and viewed it, and there certainly seemed to be a motion of the tomb, In the end, however, I discovered that the whole was an imposture, practised by the attendants of the mausoleum. They had erected over the tomb a kind of scaffolding; contrived that it could be set in motion when any of them stood upon it, so that a looker-on imagined that it was the tomb that had moved; just as to a person sailing in a boat, it is the bank which appears to be in motion… I ordered the scaffolding to be removed, and a dome to be erected over the tomb, and strictly enjoined the servants of the tomb not to dare to repeat this imposture.” [Memoirs of Zehir-ed-din Muhammed Babur, Emperor of Hindustan, Written by Himself… by John Leyden, William Erskine and Sir Lucas King, Oxford 1921, vol. I, pp. 238/9] And further, thus Babur writes of the agricultural conditions in the Ghazni area: “Ghazni is but a poor [place]… In the time of the Sultan [i.e. Mahmud of Ghazni], there were three or four mounds for collecting water. One of these, which is of great dimensions, was formed by the Sultan of Ghazni, on the river of Ghazni, about three farsangs [1 farsang, or parasang, equals about 5 to 6 km] up the river, on the north-west of town. The height of this mound is about forty or fifty gaz [1 gaz = 1 yard = 0.91 m ca.], and its length may be about three hundred gaz. The water is here collected, and drawn off according as it is wanted for cultivation. Alaeddin Jehansoz Ghuri, when he subdued this country, broke down the mound, burned and destroyed many of the tombs of the royal family of the Sultan, ruined and burned the city of Ghazni, and plundered and massacred the inhabitants… Ever since that time, the mound has remained in a state of ruin. In the year in which I conquered Hindustan [i.e. 932 H., A.D. 1526], I sent … a sum of money for the purpose of rebuilding it, and I entertain hopes that, by the mercy of God, this mound may once more be repaired. Another mound is that of Sakhen, which lies to the east of Ghazni… This also has been long in a state of ruin, and is not reparable. Another mound is that of Sardeh [south-east of Ghazni], which is also in good repair” [Memoirs of Zehir-ed-din Muhammed Babur, Emperor of Hindustan, Written by Himself… by John Leyden, William Erskine and Sir Lucas King, Oxford 1921, vol. I, pp. 240]. © Alessandro Califano, 2010